Mesoscale variability of velocities is an important part of the global ocean circulation, as it contains more kinetic energy than the mean flow over most of the ocean. Understanding
its generation, dissipation and modulation processes therefore is crucial to better understand ocean circulation in general. In this thesis, a global 1/12◦ ocean model (ORCA12)
is used to study the distribution of mean
surface Eddy Kinetic Energy (EKE), its seasonal cycle and possible driving mechanisms, averaged over 26 years (1981-2007). For the calculation of EKE, the deviations from yearly mean horizontal velocities u, v are found to be best suitable. The model is then evaluated using EKE derived from satellite altimetry (AVISO). The total EKE from the model, including geostrophic parts, realistically reproduces the observed geostrophic mean EKE and its seasonal cycle. Seasonal cycles of surface EKE in the subtropical gyres, including most of the Western Boundary Currents (WBCs), peak in the summer months in both hemispheres. The mean EKE and amplitudes of the annual cycle are generally larger in the Pacific, compared to the Atlantic.
The seasonal variations of EKE in the WBCs are driven by dissipation processes at the sea surface, namely the wind stress and thermal interactions with the atmosphere in winter. Only in the core regions of the currents other processes play a role as the surface EKE there peaks in winter/spring, not consistent with the dissipation hypothesis. The balance of dissipation and generation terms in the strong, chaotic WBCs, however, varies from year to year. In the subtropical gyres’ interior, dissipation is not solely responsible for the annual cycle. Instead, the vertical shear of near-surface horizontal velocities is found to peak in summer, in phase with the EKE. This seasonal cycle of the shear can be observed down to ∼ 150m depth, depending on the region. Inspections of profiles of horizontal velocity and EKE reveal the vertical shear to be associated with the velocity differences between the Mixed Layer and the interior ocean, possibly leading to instabilities which locally generate surface intensified EKE, largest in summer. Therefore, the seasonal cycle of near-surface vertical shear of horizontal velocities seems to be responsible for the seasonal variations of surface EKE, although the general source of EKE in the subtropical gyres remains unclear.
Course of study: MSc Climate Physics